As a leader, typically people come to you looking for answers. Many leaders bite the bait and quickly offer answers. But what if offering answers isn't the best way to lead? What if a better way to lead is to ask questions instead?
Jim Collins suggests that the strategic thinking process in great organizations is driven more by a search for the right questions than a search for the right answers. So, if a key leadership role is to frame the right questions for the organization, what are the key questions that need to be front and centre if your organization is going to not only survive but thrive and grow?
The first question you need to ask is, "Would I enthusiastically rehire everyone on my team?"
It doesn't matter how good of a strategic plan you have (and that assumes that you have one), or how well things are going, you have a people problem if you can't answer the 'people question' with a resounding and emphatic "YES!" Without the right people on your team, the execution of your strategic plan runs the risk of being derailed, stone-walled, or poorly executed.
Strategic Thinking Questions
If you were to bring your executive leadership team together and ask them (without collaboration or consultation) to write out your organization's one sentence strategy, how many variations of that strategy statement would you end up with? Based on my experience working with not-for-profit organizations and associations, I'd be on fairly good grounds to suggest you'd have as many variations as you have people in the room.
So, here's a few strategy questions that would be good to think through and discuss as an executive leadership team and board of directors:
- What is our one sentence strategy?
- What is our organization's 10- to 15-year dream?
- What are the non-negotiable core values that dictate how we behave?
- Why do we do what we do? In other words, what is our core purpose?
- Who is our core beneficiary or core customer?
- What are the 3 to 5 key priorities we need to focus on in the next 3 to 5 years?
Focusing on these questions as an executive leadership team and board will begin to bring a sense of alignment and focus that wasn't there before. It will quite likely surface some difficult conversations and reveal that you're not as aligned as you thought you were.
Execution Planning Questions
A good strategic thinking process is only as good as the execution planning process. Here are some execution questions that will help you translate your strategy into measurable outcomes.
- For how many consecutive months have we met or exceeded our goals?
- What are the 3 to 5 priorities we need to make significant progress on in the next 12 months?
- Of those 3 to 5 annual priorities, what do we need to do in the next 90 days?
- What are the metrics or key performance indicators we will use to measure our progress?
- Who will do what, and by when? Be specific!
This last question is perhaps the most important, but equally important is holding your team accountable to do what they said they'd do by the agreed date.
Cash is key to any not-for-profit organization or association -- without it you're dead! So, here's some critical cash/funding questions that you need to wrestle with:
- What kind of cash flow do we need to sustain and grow our organization?
- Of all the things we do, what's the correlation between our expenditures and what we've identified as our highest priorities? Are we spending a corresponding amount of money on our highest priority activities and services that will yield the greatest benefit to our members?
- What if we were to realize a 1% adjustment in our expenses, income, productivity, membership base? What difference would it make? (Obviously, if you can reduce expenses, increase income, productivity, and membership base, the net impact will be a stronger bottom line, which will improve cash flow and long-term sustainability.)
Quite simply, you need to know how your organization is doing in terms of asking the right questions. Go find out!
Ken Thiessen is a certified business coach and executive consultant with Gazelles International. Using the Mastering the Rockefeller Habits Four DecisionsTM Planning Model he works with executive leadership teams of nonprofit organizations to help them achieve strategic alignment and maximize their positive social impact. Ken is also the author of The Entrepreneurial Nonprofit. The Key to Maximizing Sustainable Impact. To find out how Ken can help your organization maximize its strategic alignment visit his website at www.powerofoneconsulting.ca or contact him at 306.531.4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken offers a free team alignment assessment that will help you see where your organization is at in relationship to each of these four key questions.
Once you have identified the questions your association needs to be asking of itself, you may want to look further into improving how you communicate beyond your own organization. Consider attending our How to Turn 3-Minute Conversations Into Relationships, Referrals and Revenues webinar in June with Michael J. Hughes.